************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 15, 2012
Nicene Creed 08
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
"He was Crucified, Suffered, Buried"
We continue our study of the Nicene Creed. Last time, in looking at the incarnation, we looked at why Christ came down from heaven. We learned He came down "for us and for our salvation" (cf 1 Tim 1:15). Today we look at Christ's atoning sacrifice; we look at His death upon the cross; we look at His crucifixion, suffering, and burial.
We note right away that this section of the Creed is not as elaborate as the part dealing with Jesus' divine nature. The plain character of this section lies in the lack of controversy surrounding it. Paul's confession in our Scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 15 states it clearly:
(1Cor 15:3-4) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Paul's confession leaves no room for discussion or controversy or debate. You cannot argue about this. The teaching of Scripture is plain. So, the fathers of Nicea did not have to elaborate on this teaching. They simply noted what the Bible notes – that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, that He suffered and was buried.
Note what we do not find in the Creed. We find none of the elaborate Gospel accounts of His passion. It does not focus on the betrayal, denial, and abandonment of Jesus by His disciples. It says nothing about the quiet fidelity of His female followers. It mentions nothing about the participation of the Jewish leadership in the plot that led to His public execution. Instead, the focus of the Creed is on the means of execution, its political sponsor, Jesus' suffering, Jesus' burial, and its purpose.
I He Was Crucified
A "He was crucified" says the Creed. Here we see the means of execution. Crucifixion was a particularly cruel form of execution, even by the standards of antiquity, especially when nails rather than ropes were used. Crucifixion was only used for enemies or slaves. Thus, the Romans punished the slave rebellion of Spartacus and the rebellion of the Jews with mass crucifixions.
B According to the Jews, crucifixion was a shameful method of execution. As we read in Deuteronomy, "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deut 21:23). Under this view, only an especially horrible sinner could suffer such a death.
The New Testament approaches crucifixion from the same point-of-view. Paul says that on the cross, Christ became "a curse for us" (Gal 3:13), and that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21). He told the Corinthians that in the cross we see that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Cor 1:25). The letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Heb 12:2).
C The teaching of the incarnation scandalized the Roman world. Many people had a hard time accepting the teaching that the Lord of the universe entered our world at a single time and space in the form of an infant baby born to impoverished parents. Now, on top of this, the church teaches an even greater scandal – that the incarnate God not only experienced death, but the most shameful form of violent death as an executed criminal! As Paul put it,
(1Cor 1:23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
D As we think about this, one word that stands out is paradox. A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory or absurd but is actually valid or true. In the incarnation and crucifixion we see the paradox of wealth in poverty, wisdom in foolishness, and strength in weakness. Blessing comes through One cursed (Gal 3:6-14), freedom through a slave (Gal 5:1), righteousness through one made sin (2 Cor 5:21), wealth through one made poor (2 Cor 8:9), wisdom through foolishness (1 Cor 1:25), strength through weakness (2 Cor 13:4), and life through death (Rom 5:12-21).
II Under Pontius Pilate
A In the next words of the Creed the political sponsor of the crucifixion is identified. We are told Christ was crucified "under Pontius Pilate." These words remind us that though Jesus' died a cruel death He also died a legal death. He died at the hands of the Roman government, represented by Pontius Pilate. Jesus, though innocent and even declared to be innocent, was condemned by a civil judge.
The crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Rome is a reminder that worldly authorities actively oppose any challenges to their power.
B Jesus warns us, more than once, that Christians can expect to be treated in the same way.
(Jn 15:18-19) If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (19) If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.We see from the pages of church history that those Christians Who follow Jesus' life often end up also following His manner of death. We see this with Stephen, Paul, Peter, the other apostles, and many martyrs right up to the present day. If this is what we can expect, doesn't this warn us to not to rely on the power of the state?
Furthermore, students of history tell us that when Christians have relied on the power of the state to advance their own goals they have lost their distinctive identity and have become oppressors of others.
It is no accident that the Creed mentions Mary and Pontius Pilate. You can hardly get two people more opposite of each other. Mary is young, female, poor, Jewish, and – being pregnant out of marriage – socially and religiously suspect. Yet through her faith, God brings life to the world – at the cost of a sword piercing her own soul (cf Lk 2:35). Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, is mature, male, wealthy, Roman, and safely wed (cf Mt 27:19). Yet through his moral weakness a holy and righteous man was taken to the cross and a murderer was released; because of him "the author of life was killed" (cf Acts 3:13-14).
III Jesus' Suffering
A Jesus "suffered" says the Creed. Here we come to our third point.
The testimony of the New Testament is that Jesus suffered in His life and death. The predictions that Jesus made of His death as He journeyed to Jerusalem are rightly called passion predictions – coming from the Greek word "pascho" meaning "suffering" – for they emphasize the "great suffering" or passion of the Son of Man (Mk 8:31; cf 9:31; 10:32). In Luke's Gospel the risen Jesus says, "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory" (Lk 24:26). From Scripture, Paul proved to the Thessalonians that "the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:3). Similarly, Peter says that "Christ suffered in his body" (1 Pt 4:1; cf 1:11).
B Jesus "suffered." Remember what the Creed confessed earlier about Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Not only is He "of the same essence as the Father" but He is also "of the same essence" as man. And, His "suffering" demonstrates this. When He took on flesh, the Son of God did not live His human life safely above the plane of human suffering but entered fully into the human struggle. It is especially the book of Hebrews that makes this point:
(Heb 2:10,11,18) In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (11) Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers ... (18) Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus' suffering is important to us. It shows us the extreme to which divine love will go for us. And, it demonstrates how Jesus shares fully in our humanity. The Bible tells us that suffering is part of the human struggle. We see this way back in the Garden of Eden already where, after the Fall, the woman is told she will suffer greatly in childbearing and the man is told about painful toil (Gen 3:16-19). Because of sin, suffering is now part of the human condition. Well, the creed affirms that Jesus has entered fully into the human condition. Jesus "suffered."
We don't glorify suffering. We are not to the blind to the suffering of others. We are not to impose suffering on others. We are not to be silent bystanders when suffering is inflicted on others. However, we rejoice that Christ suffered as we do.
C Jesus "suffered" just like us. And, those who are Christians can expect to suffer just like Him. In many places the New Testament tells us to expect suffering as a result of our faith and its practice. It regards such suffering to be a participation in the suffering of Christ (Col 1:24).
IV Jesus' Burial
A Jesus "was buried" says the Creed. Here we come to our fourth point.
The Creed without question or discussion accepts the testimony of Paul and the Gospels. As our Scripture reading puts it,
(1Cor 15:3-4) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures ...According to Paul, Christ's burial is one of the facts about Christ that he received from the first believers.
The same matter-of-fact approach is found in the Gospels (cf Mk 15:42-47; Mt 27:55-66; Lk 23:50-55; Jn 19:38-42). The gospel stories all agree on the basic characters and actions and, above all, on the fact of the burial itself. After Jesus died He was buried.
B Jesus "was buried." Meaning what? Meaning that He really died. He did not faint. He did not enter some kind of coma. He was not buried alive.
Have you ever heard of a "safety coffin"? There was a time when people had a fear of being buried alive. Before the advent of modern medicine, the fear was not entirely irrational. Throughout history, there have been numerous cases of people being buried alive by accident. In 1905, the English reformer, William Tebb, collected accounts of premature burial. He found 219 cases of near live burial, 149 actual live burials, 10 cases of live dissection, and 2 cases of awakening while being embalmed.Jesus was not buried alive. He was buried because He really died. This is the testimony of Scripture. This is the proclamation of the Nicene Creed.
For this reason, the safety coffin was invented. Most consisted of some type of device for communication to the outside world should an interred person revive after burial. One such device is a cord attached at one end to a finger of the buried person and attached at the other end to a bell setup over the grave. This, supposedly, gave birth to the phrase, "Saved by the bell."
V For Us
A Our fifth point is the purpose. Our fifth point concerns the why of the crucifixion, suffering, and burial of Christ.
Did you catch the two little words buried in the text of the Nicene Creed. It doesn't just mention His crucifixion, Pontius Pilate, His suffering, and His burial. It also says, "for us." His crucifixion under Pilate was for us. His suffering was for us. His burial was for us.
For us. Apart from this what the Creed says is absurd. The incarnation is absurd without the atonement; in other words, there was no need for Jesus to come down from heaven as a man unless He also suffered and died. And, the atonement is absurd apart from the loving purpose of salvation; that is, there was no need for Jesus to suffer and die apart from us and our salvation. Apart from this the cross is not only absurd but absurdly brutal. Can you imagine God the Father punishing God the Son with crucifixion and suffering and death for something that was not necessary? No, the purpose of the cross, suffering, and burial is necessarily connected to us and our salvation.
God did not come to earth for His own benefit. Nor did He die in the flesh for His own benefit. God sent His only begotten Son to die because He loved sinners. As the Creed put it in an earlier testimony: He came down from heaven "for us and for our salvation." And, "for us and our salvation" He was crucified, He suffered, He died, He was buried.
B Some say the cross was merely an example of divine compassion and love. They say Jesus' death offers the supreme moral example for us to follow. This, however, misses the reality confessed in the Creed. The crucifixion, suffering, death, and burial of Jesus was for us.
C I need to use a couple of fancy theological phrases to explain the intent of the Nicene Creed:
-Jesus suffering and death was a representative and substitutionary death on behalf of sinners.
-Jesus took for Himself the penalty due to sinners.
-In dying on the cross, Jesus paid our debt.
-Jesus' death provided atonement for us.
The Hebrew word translated as "atonement" means "a covering." In the work of Jesus, sinners have a covering for their sins.
With the church of all ages, what do we confess? We say, "He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried."
As we confess this, we can only marvel at God's love. He loves us so much that He gave us His only begotten Son! What love! What grace! What favor! We deserve none of it.
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